A strange silence has met the U.S. capture of a Libyan militant accused in the 2012 attack that killed the American ambassador and three others. In his hometown of Benghazi in eastern Libya, there have been few threats of revenge, only speculation among supporters and opponents that Ahmed Abu Khattala was betrayed by an insider.
Abu Khattala had said for months he had no fear of the Americans snatching him, living at his home and saying he worked as a construction contractor. Before U.S. commandos snatched him from Benghazi a week ago, he had been battling alongside the militant group Ansar al-Shariah against the troops of Khalifa Hifter, a renegade Libyan general who has waged an offensive aimed at crushing Islamic militants around Libya, Abu Khattala's brother Abu Bakr told The Associated Press.
Abu Khattala was a prominent figure in the eastern city of Benghazi's thriving circles of extremists, popular among young radicals for being among the most hard-core and uncompromising of those calling for Libya to be ruled by Islamic Shariah law. But he was always something of a lone figure. Even after he joined Ansar al-Shariah - the group accused by the United States of carrying out the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi- he didn't take a leadership position or a post in its decision-making bodies, noted Fadlallah Haroun, a former rebel commander in Benghazi who met Abu Khattala in prison in the 1990s.
"He was always an outsider," Haroun, who opposes the Islamists and whose brother is a top intelligence official, told the AP. "He was a very simple man, who was honest in his talk and independent."
That may have made it easier for the U.S. to track him down. Among Benghazi officials and militants, there were multiple theories floating over who could have given away his location to the Americans. Some pointed the finger at Hifter. Others said Islamist militias may have turned him, hoping to relieve the pressure on themselves in Hifter's offensive. So far, a week after his capture, Ansar al-Shariah has not commented - perhaps a sign it was trying to determine who betrayed him.
"For sure he was sold out," Abu Khattala's brother, Abu Bakr, told The Associated Press on Friday. "It's very clear that he was betrayed. We will pin it down until we figure out who did it."